This is my third review of a World War II-era fighter. Previously I looked at the Messerschmitt Bf 109G from Flight Replicas, and before that the Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IA from Shockwave. The aircraft under review here was less fast and less famous, but not less deadly: the Hawker Hurricane. During the course of the war, the Hurricane scored more kills than any Allied fighter, including the Spitfire and P-51 Mustang.
How did it manage that? The Hurricane was sturdier than the Spitfire, easier to fly, and there were more of them in the sky. In the Battle of Britain, there were three Hurricanes for every two Spitfires. Hurricanes saw action in all theaters and almost all fronts. They fought the Germans in northern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East; they fought the Italians in Greece; and they fought the Japanese in the Far East, over Burma, India, and Singapore. And that is just the RAF Hurricanes. Russians also flew Hurricanes against the Germans, and Finns flew Hurries against the Russians.
What was it like to ride the Hurricane? Most Hurries were scrapped after the war, so finding a real one is going to be tough. Happily, there is now a package of simulated Hurricanes from SkyUnlimited. It comes with 9 different models, 20 paint schemes, and (for FS2004 only) a fictional RAF airbase.
Installation and Documentation
SkyUnlimited products are sold using the Flight1 purchase wrapper. You download first, then enter your purchasing information, then run the automated installer. If you install for FS2004, it will also set up the airbase scenery. This was slightly confusing, because the airbase documentation is written as if you needed to install it manually; you don’t.
Actually, I wish that you could. As it is now, the scenery installs in your “Add-on Scenery” folder -- which works fine, unless you want to disable it for some reason. This isn’t a complaint about the scenery per se. Generally speaking, though, it’s better to install sceneries like this in their own subfolder, so that users have the option of turning them on or off in the scenery library.
Apart from this, installation is straightforward.
Documentation is a 39-page PDF in English, but it wasn’t written by SkyUnlimited. It’s a photographic facsimile of the official pilot’s operating handbook issued by the British Air Ministry in 1943. How realistic can you get? A lot of flightsim aircraft can be flown “by the book” or “by the numbers,” but which book and which numbers? For once there is no mystery: the developer says, “Here is the book we used, and you can verify for yourself whether we have gotten it right.” I like that, and they have: if you follow the instructions in the original manual, the model will fly like the original plane.
This is what matters, and I don’t want the minor criticism that I make next to overshadow it. It’s about the kneeboard. Information that’s specific to Flight Simulator, such as how to open the engine cowling, is given as text. But the checklists are presented in the form of photographic facsimile (same as the manual). That’s better than nothing (the last aircraft I reviewed didn’t even have a kneeboard checklist), and it looks cool. But it’s not easy to read, and when you’re busy in the cockpit, that counts.
From the side and in the cockpit, the Hurricane looks a lot like the Spitfire, only more compact. “Ah, but to the trained eye…” According to Peter Townsend, the trained eyes of Luftwaffe pilots were often deceived (Duel of Eagles, p. 273). They assumed that the Hurricane was no threat, and when an RAF fighter got the better of them, it “must” have been a Spitfire. In fact, many of those supposed Spitfires were really Hurricanes.
To my untrained eye, the Hurricanes in this package are a good-looking bunch. One difference between the Hurricane and the Spitfire was that the Hurricane had a cloth fuselage, stretched over a wood and wire frame, then stiffened with dope. (The Spitfire’s fuselage was all-metal.) This gives the body of the Hurricane a ribbed look when viewed up close, which you can see here in the screenshots.
Lots of attention has been lavished on the control surfaces, and you can look up in the wheel wells too and see the hydraulics. When you’re on the ground, you can remove the engine cowling to see the motor underneath, and there is even an animated step-ladder for the pilot. The pilot looks pretty good, too. I’ve noticed that this varies a lot: some developers, such as Alphasim and Aeroplane Heaven, seem to produce very human-looking figures for their exterior views, whereas others…are not so gifted in this particular department of 3D modeling. This one here looks relatively natural, and he is wearing authentic flight gear.
This being Flight Simulator, you can’t shoot anything with the Hurricane but you can fire the machine guns. The bullets won’t go anywhere, but you will hear them and see flame from the gun barrels. In exterior view, you can even see the spent shell casings. Other special effects include fuel tanks that drop away when released, wingtip contrails when acceleration exceeds 2.5 G's, altitude contrails above FL200, exhaust smoke, and a flickering blue light from the fishtail manifold.
Surface textures are detailed too. The very smallest writing, on fuselage and elevator, is not quite legible but you can certainly count the rivets if you are so inclined. These are combat planes, so they look weathered, but the colors are rich and there are many paint schemes to choose from:
1. Mk.I, XR-T (Z7381), RAF 71 Squadron, "The Eagle Squadron”
If that’s not enough, the package also comes with a paint kit. But let’s look at what’s here. As you can see from the marks, places, and dates, there are aircraft from all phases of the war and from various fronts. Most of these are RAF paints, but you’ll also find a Finnish Hurricane (with swastika on the fuselage), an Irish Hurricane (with IAC roundel), a Russian Hurricane (with red star) and an Indian Hurricane (with IAF roundel). “Trop” models are tropicalized versions of the Hurricane, which have heavy-duty air filters. (The filters reduce engine performance, but are necessary to screen out sand in North Africa and dust on the Russian steppe.) Some Hurries have bombs underwing, others have cannon.
The 2D cockpit is well laid out. On my 17-inch monitor, the gauges were too small to read comfortably but pilots with larger monitors should do fine.
The virtual cockpit (VC) has a lot of eye candy, including a lot of animation. For example, when you move the steering grip left, you see the stick move (which is normal) and the chain that pulls the ailerons (which we don’t get everyday). There’s an emergency release lever that, when you pull on it, pops out the side of the cockpit so that you can escape in your parachute. There’s also a screw to adjust the rudder pedals (in case you have short legs) and a lever to adjust your seat height: when you pull the lever, your seat angles up.
Granted, a lot of this detail is just cosmetic. The Morse code keys, which you can flip up and down, don’t actually bang out dots and dashes; and when your seat goes up, your eye point doesn’t go up with it (although that would be useful). But who cares? It looks good, it gives you something to play with, and (this is important) it doesn’t cause low frame rates.
What would spoil our day is fuzzy gauges, which you don’t find here. I did notice myself leaning in slightly to read the airspeed. (This was with TrackIR.) And there are jaggies on some of the needles and dials (most noticeably on the altimeter and attitude indicator). But everything is usable: for short distances, this is a very comfortable cockpit.
What about long distances? There are pop-up windows with modern avionics, including GPS and even autopilot, so you can fly cross-country. But let’s say you want to do all of your navigating from the virtual cockpit, or that you want to navigate the old-fashioned way, with compass and stopwatch. It’s possible: there is what looks like a P8 compass behind the steering spade. But it doesn’t work like the real compass: it points north, and it can’t be adjusted. The real P8 had a movable rim, with degree markings on it. You still had to fly the plane yourself, but the compass helped you to visualize your heading. To be fair, however, the Spitfire which I reviewed previously had the same compass, and it didn’t work right either.
Compared with other World War II-era fighters I have reviewed, the Hurricane cockpit is more detailed, with more moving parts, than either the Shockwave Spitfire or the Flight Replicas Me 109. For long distance flights, I prefer the Flight Replicas VC, because it includes most of what I need for navigation on the main instrument panel. And the Shockwave VC is more polished. But the Hurricane has more eye candy, and it’s easier on frame rates than the Me 109.
In a model with lots of moving parts, you'd expect a slowdown. I didn’t experience that on my main system (see specs), and on my laptop (which is several years old now) the fighter was still fun to fly.
For gear, flaps, and canopy, existing sounds were used (though not, it seems, the default sounds). No complaint here. For the motor, SkyUnlimited says they recorded a real Merlin engine. But how do you test that? Since I don’t have a Merlin of my own, I searched for recordings of one on YouTube.
I found several and, sure enough, that is what a Merlin engine sounds like. I also compared the Merlin sounds in this package with the Merlin sounds in Shockwave’s Wings of Power II: WWII Fighters. I like both recordings but for different reasons. The Shockwave Merlin is more rumbly and conveys a sense of raw power. With SkyUnlimited, you hear more of the engine’s personality. Sure, it’s powerful, but it’s mechanical power not pure energy; you can hear some irregularities.
Hurricane Fighters of WWII is now compatible with FSX. The scenery hasn’t been converted, but the planes fly and there are some new views. Some of these are for the virtual cockpit: e.g., “Compass and Trim,” “Chair and Handpump,” “Battery Switches,” and something called “Runway Takeoff View.” This last view is like sticking your head out the left side of the cockpit -- which in a tail dragger is very useful because it’s hard to see ahead until the tail comes up. Other views show the plane from various angles: "Under Fuselage,” “Right Wing,” “Left Wing,” “Drop Tank View,” and “Tail.”
As with the other fighters I’ve been testing, the propeller on this one disappears in front of a cloud when viewed from outside. This is turning out to be a very common bug with FS2004 aircraft that have been converted to FSX. The bug is clearly fixable, because it’s not there in any of the FSX default planes. But for the moment we seem to be stuck with it.
Once again, the reviewer apologizes for not being a real pilot. I've done some reading, but that’s the extent of my knowledge, and I know it’s not a substitute for hands-on experience. Still, what do we know about Hurricanes that we can test?
I’ve mentioned already that these Hurricanes can be flown “by the book.” That’s a good sign right away. But how does it feel, qualitatively? Compared with the Spitfire and Me 109, the Hurricane is less powerful, so it’s slower in climbs and straight-aways. On the other hand, it’s less prone to stalls and spins. I don’t consider myself a crack pilot, but I’ve found that I can fly the Hurricane very aggressively, even at low altitudes.
This morning, for example, I did a flight over Fulda to test the carburetor. The Merlin was a great engine, but it did have one glaring disadvantage compared with the fuel-injected engines in German fighters. When a Merlin fighter dives or goes inverted, it loses power, at least, the real ones did. So I wanted to test this in the Hurricane. I got up a little altitude, maybe 2,000 feet, and did a roll. Sure enough, I lost power -- and because I had entered the roll from a climb, I started to stall as well. Then coming out of the roll, I got my power back again and pitched the nose forward to pick up speed. Within a couple of seconds -- it seemed longer -- I was flying again instead of falling.
The real Hurricanes were easier to fly than the Spitfires, and also easier to land (especially at night). This is what I found in the simulator as well. Again, I don’t think of myself as a fighter ace -- but compared with the Me 109, landing the Hurricane is like riding a tricycle. At very low speeds, controls are a bit sluggish; I’m guessing this was a feature of the real aircraft, but I haven’t been able to confirm that so far. Ground handling is tricky, as with any tail dragger, and to steer you use differential braking: brake left to turn left, brake left to turn right. That takes some getting used to, but so did the real thing.
Hurricane Fighters of WWII sells for $26 (US). It’s noteworthy, I think, as this package is a team effort. One person did the paint schemes, another person did the sounds, and so on. That’s not, I’m guessing, the path to riches and fame but it can lead to quality results. There’s little here that is not well done.
What I Like About Hurricane Fighters of WWII
What I Don't Like About Hurricane Fighters of WWI
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